Thirty Years On: April 1988

April 1988 will of course be the month when The Flying Bohemians were born. I’d floated the idea of starting a band of sorts sometime in March if I’m not mistaken, but it wasn’t until the following month that Chris and Nathane and I made any serious plans about it.  It would be after their spring break trip, so the band would have its auspicious debut jam session on the 22nd of that year.  Meanwhile, I’d started songwriting in earnest, pulling out lyrics old and new that could possibly used for our future sessions.  I still had a hell of a lot to learn at that point, but I wasn’t going to let that stop me.

Meanwhile, here’s some of my favorite tunage that was getting play both on college and AOR radio, and on my turntable and tape deck.

Thomas Dolby, Aliens Ate My Buick, released ?? April. Third album from the geekiest synth musician out there. It wasn’t a big seller at all, but it was definitely a fun listen. It’s got some of his goofiest songs on there.

Bright Lights, Big City soundtrack, released ?? April. I’d picked up this soundtrack simply because it’s got an excellent line-up: MARRS, New Order, Depeche Mode, Prince, and Bryan Ferry, to name a few. The movie hasn’t aged well at all, nor has the book (though its unconventional use of telling the story entirely in second-person present tense POV did open my eyes quite a bit as a burgeoning writer at the time), but the soundtrack is still quite excellent.

The Wonder Stuff, “Give Give Give Me More More More” single, released ?? April. A ridiculously fun and witty British band from the Midlands, these guys were a listener’s favorite on college radio almost immediately upon arriving in the US. It would be another few months before their album would drop, but this was an excellent teaser.

Joe Jackson, Live 1980/86, released ?? April. This is an excellent live cross-section of his hits, including an absolutely amazing reinterpretation of his US hit “Steppin’ Out”, turned into a slow, elegiac jazz piece here. I remember ordering this from Columbia House back then just for that one track alone.

Graham Parker, The Mona Lisa’s Sister, released ?? April. WMDK and other AOR stations loved playing Parker’s stuff over the years, and this one got a lot of play as well. I used to love this particular track quite a bit.

In-D, “Virgin in-D Sky’s” single, released ?? April. Ah, Belgian techno…you never quite caught on here in the states, but I loved you just the same. Two club DJs from Antwerp got together and recorded three dance singles (and calling the style ‘New Beat’), and this was the one that somehow caught on with college radio.

John Adams (composer), Nixon in China, released 5 April. I remember this one coming out because it was such an unconventional subject for an opera. That, and Main Street Records down in Northampton had it set up on their endcap at the front of the store, so whenever we walked in, the first thing we’d see was the box set. It would be a few years before I’d finally give it a listen, and many more years until I finally saw it live (with Adams present, as he’s a Bay Area local!). It’s a strange one, sure, but it’s quite fascinating.

The Jesus & Mary Chain, Barbed Wire Kisses, released 18 April. The J&MC’s first collection of b-sides and rarities (they’d release quite a few over the course of their career), it’s an interesting mix that showcases just how far they’d come, from their early feedback screech to their sludgy alt-rock. [Also, the first of a few albums that were ‘borrowed’ from the radio station I worked at then…I mean, was an AM, low-watt, lite-pop, satellite-fed station ever going to play this? I highly doubted it.]

Erasure, The Innocents, released 18 April. I absolutely adored this album when it came out, and “Chains of Love” became one of my favorite tracks of the year to to that point. Another band given a lot of love and promotion by Sire (thanks again, Seymour Stein!), this was heavily played not just on 120 Minutes but during regular daytime MTV. Classic album worth having. [Also, another ‘borrowed’ album. Heh.]

Soul Asylum, Hang Time, released 25 April. One of many punk bands from Minneapolis, these guys were often seen as the slightly less inebriated little brothers of the Replacements, but they rocked just as hard and recorded solid albums right alongside them. They’d finally get their share of major fame in the mid-90s, but this album — their first for a major label — was the one that pricked up the ears of the college radio crowds.

X, Live at the Whisky a Go Go (On the Fabulous Sunset Strip), released 29 April. Another live album that got a lot of airplay on the college radio and AOR stations, it’s an excellent mix of all their classic underground favorites. This was actually the first X album I owned (again, thanks to Columbia House) and “Hungry Wolf” soon became one of my favorite tracks of theirs.

*

Up next: May 1988!

Thirty Years On: More March 1988

Welcome to another edition of Thirty Years On!  This one finishes up March 1988 with a mix of many differing styles and sounds. and ending with a classic that remains influential to this day.

Camouflage, Voices & Images, released 4 March. By 1988 there were quite a few synth-centric bands out there with more than just a passing resemblance to Depeche Mode. But Camouflage — who came from the birthplace of dark synthpop, Germany — made a name for themselves by writing gorgeous, catchy melodies and often uplifting lyrics. Their debut is worth checking out, especially for the lovely opener, “That Smiling Face”.

The Beatles, Past Masters Vols 1 & 2, released 7 March. These two volumes are important in that it completed the campaign to release the entire Beatles discography on CD, which had started in 1987. Collecting all the non-album tracks from singles, EPs and elsewhere, it contains an amazing number of their hits that we all know and love.

Love and Rockets, “No New Tale to Tell” single, released 8 March. A surprisingly late UK release coming nearly six months after their psychedelic folk-tinged Earth Sun Moon album (it was released as a single in the US much closer to its release date), it’s a classic alt-pop track from the trio that remains a fan favorite.

The Mighty Lemon Drops, World Without End, released 8 March. This British power-pop band was a critical favorite back in 1986 to the point that they even had a following here in the States, thanks to their signing to Sire (thank you, Seymour Stein!). Their second album is more electric than their quieter, dream-poppier debut, but their songs are still infectiously catchy.

Morrissey, Viva Hate, released 14 March. Moz’s post-Smiths debut remains one of his strongest albums, working directly with producer Stephen Street and Vini Reilly from The Durutti Column. It’s very similar to The Queen Is Dead in terms of songwriting, though with the moodier feel of Strangeways Here We Come.  It’s dark, at times angry and other times wistful…just as we’ve come to expect from Morrissey.

The Smithereens, Green Thoughts, released 16 March. The Smithereens’ second album after 1986’s fantastic Especially for You continues their signature sound of drop-tuned, hard-edged bluesy rock. Their sound is heavier and louder here, and would continue that way to 1989’s 11.

Throwing Muses, House Tornado, released 21 March. One of two amazing releases this day from the classic 4AD label. It sadly was eclipsed by the below release, but it’s still a stunner. It’s a perfect example of the disparate writing styles of Kristin Hersh (angular and full of off-kilter imagery) and Tanya Donelly (poppier and dreamlike)…and how easily they can play off each other.

Pixies, Surfer Rosa, released 21 March. The second of two 4AD releases on this day, this one stunned everyone, from critics to fans alike. Their strange and unique sound was crafted into a monster by producer Steve Albini, who pushed the power of their music to the extreme. It sounds like everyone’s levels are pushed almost into the red, with Dave Lovering’s drums just as thunderous as Black Francis’ howls and screams, Kim Deal’s insistent bass and Joey Santiago’s wailing guitar.

*

Coming soon: April 1988!

Thirty Years On: March 1988 Part 1

March 1988!  I always think of March as being one of the longest months of the year back when I was in school, because that was the only month that didn’t have a holiday or a break.  It was when our teachers would assign the term paper or the class project that we’d have to finish around spring break in April.  On the plus side, it was also the time the weather started clearing up a bit.  A few lingering snowfalls, but it would eventually start getting warmer, and the roads would finally start to clear.

Here’s a handful of albums that arrived sometime in March.

Stump, A Fierce Pancake. I was drawn to this Irish band simply for its utter daftness; lyrics filled with puns and odd references, strange samples, guitar riffs deliberately played to sound off-key (see “Buffalo”, which showed up on the US version of this album), and a look that made you think they weren’t the actual band, but the guys at the bar coming to heckle them.

Big Pig, Bonk. An Australian collective with heavy percussion, they had a minor hit in the US with “Breakaway” (which would get a second life in 1989 as the opening credits song for Bill & Ted’s Excellent Adventure), they had a much bigger following back home and in the UK, thanks to their unique sound that mixed drums, blues and funk.

The Mission UK, Children. Wayne Hussey and Craig Adams had parted ways with their previous band (The Sisters of Mercy) and created their style by fusing goth and spaghetti western (similar to other bands of the time like Fields of the Nephilim), and they finally hit their stride with their second album. “Tower of Strength” remains a fan favorite.

REM, “Finest Worksong” single. The last of three singles from their stellar Document album from 1987 and its opening track, it was a rare single of theirs that would get a remix, complete with a horn section. It would also be their next-to-last release on IRS Records, moving to Warner Bros later that year and onto much larger success.

Shriekback, Go Bang!. The alt-funksters who had quite the cult following in the UK had been pressured by their label to come up with a hit, and provided a much dancier, more commercial sound with this album. It’s not their strongest, but it’s definitely catchy.  [Check out Wayne Casey, he of KC and the Sunshine Band, checking out the crowd in the above video!]

Peter Murphy, Love Hysteria. Murphy’s second solo album is a gorgeous classic with lush, complex compositions that would become his stock in trade for future releases. It’s an album for listening and paying attention to, especially with headphones. Highly suggested to add to your collection.

The Jesus & Mary Chain, “Sidewalking” single. A new track to supplement their upcoming b-sides and rarities album Barbed Wire Kisses, this hinted at a much tighter band, turning down the reverb and the feedback creating a heavier, groovier sound that would bring them an even wider audience.

Felt, The Pictorial Jackson Review. A band that defined quiet jangle-pop in the 80s, their eighth album was an interesting mix of styles, with the first side of the album featuring singer Lawrence’s signature meandering sound, and the flip side featuring an amazing jazz piano journey played by keyboardist Martin Duffy (who would go on to join Primal Scream the next year).

Coming soon:  More March 1988!

Thirty Years On: More February 1988

In this episode of Thirty Years On

She’s Having a Baby soundtrack, released 2 February. John Hughes once again shines with a brilliant mix for his movie about growing up and realizing you need to be an adult, even and especially when you don’t want to be one. Side one features the men (Dave Wakeling, XTC, Love and Rockets), and Side two features the women (Kate Bush, Kirsty MacColl, Everything But the Girl). It’s a solid mix and still one of my favorite soundtracks of his.

The Cure, “Hot Hot Hot!!!” single, released 9 February. The last single from 1987’s sugary, upbeat Kiss Me Kiss Me Kiss Me album, it features the lighter, sillier side of the Cure… and Robert Smith with short hair! They’d do a complete one-eighty a little over a year later with the dark and amazing Disintegration.

The Church, Starfish, released 16 February. You knew this would come eventually, right? Heh. Still, I’ll admit THIS SONG didn’t completely resonate with me right away. It was lovely and reminiscent of their reverb-drenched jangle of previous albums, and it only grew on me a month or so later when I’d hear it constantly on 120 Minutes and occasionally when MTV played it during the day. Anyway…this is their strongest and most commercially accessible album, but this was also their make-or-break album and was quite a laborious and tense recording project. On the plus side it would give them a template for their next few albums into the mid-90s, providing much airplay and sales for them, until they retreated back to their semi-psychedelic indie roots. This remains one of their best albums, highly suggested.

Morrissey, “Suedehead” single, released 27 February. Moz finally appears from the ashes of the Smiths after their acrimonious breakup months previous, with a lovely single from his forthcoming solo debut. It feels like the breeziness of the Smiths, as he’s working with their producer here (Stephen Street) and would continue to do so until the early 90s.

The Sisters of Mercy, “Dominion” single, released 29 February. The second single from the classic 1987 album Floodland (one of my favorite albums of that year), this continues his work with the always epic Jim Steinman; somehow he manages to create an intense and driven song using just three chords!

Robert Plant, Now and Zen, released 29 February. After a handful of great but meandering solo albums, Plant nails it here with a solid record full of wonderful, catchy tracks. I’ll even forgive him for that painful last line in the chorus of “Heaven Knows”…

The Fall, The Frenz Experiment, released 29 February. RIP Mark E Smith, who recently passed away at 60. This was one of their sort-of-breakthrough albums of the late 80s, which saw them finally catch on with a lot of US fans via college radio and 120 Minutes. Still confrontational, still abrasive, but always a fun listen.

*

Coming up soon: Various March 1988 releases!

Thirty Years On: February 1988

Welcome to another edition of TYO, with another batch of albums and singles released sometime in February of 1988 (as far as I can tell).  After the quiet calm that usually starts Q1, we’ll start hearing more classic tracks and albums, many of which still get played to this day.

Peter Murphy, “All Night Long” single. A teaser for his upcoming second album, Love Hysteria, this one definitely set the tone for Murphy’s new sound. Where his debut record (1986’s Should the World Fail to Fall Apart) was strange, angular and reminiscent of his last few years with Bauhaus, the new album was more mature, layered, and warmer in tone. This first single hit college radio and 120 Minutes and became a mainstay for months.

Jerry Harrison, Casual Gods. The Talking Heads drummer’s second solo album was a favorite on AOR stations and featured session greats such as Robbie McIntosh and Bernie Worrell.

Robyn Hitchcock & the Egyptians, Globe of Frogs. While Robyn had always maintained a strong following since his Soft Boys days, this particular album seemed to be the turning point, in part thanks to his signing to a major label, A&M. “Balloon Man” would get heavy play on AOR and college stations, and still gets played on alternative stations now and again.

Wire, “Kidney Bingos” single. Another teaser single, this time for Wire’s second comeback album A Bell Is a Cup Until It Is Struck. Many fans who’d missed out on Wire’s original late 70s post-punk run (like myself) jumped on the bandwagon with their 1987 comeback The Ideal Copy and this album, which the band themselves called their ‘beat combo’ era. Their songs are much more melodic and straightforward this time out, but they’ve retained their inherent arty weirdness with fascinating soundscapes and off-kilter lyrics.

The Wedding Present, “Nobody’s Twisting Your Arm” single. Released as a stand-alone single after their George Best album from 1987, this track is indicative of the Weddoe’s classic jangly pop-punk sound that gathered a small but loyal following.

Abecedarians, Resin. A southern California band with a unique sound that was equal parts goth, spaghetti western, and post-punk. Not too many had ever heard of this band, but those who did swore by them religiously. Highly recommended if you search long enough for their small but excellent discography.

Various Artists, Salvation! soundtrack. A fascinating soundtrack to a rather bizarre cult movie about a skeezy televangelist that features multiple tracks from New Order, including the above. [Note: the ‘movie’ scenes in that video have nothing to do with Salvation!; in fact, the video director made the entire plot up just for the song.]

Various Artists, Sgt Pepper Knew My Father. British music mag NME created this interesting if sometimes questionable recreation of the classic Beatles album as done by numerous mostly-UK bands of the day, as a charity album for their runaway hotline Childline. For every fantastic cover (such as the above, The Wedding Present’s “Getting Better” and Billy Bragg’s “She’s Leaving Home”) there are a few stinkers in there (a half-assed rap take on the title song by The Three Wize Men and a weak “Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds” by The Christians). And then there’s the outright weird Frank Sidebottom doing “Mr Kite”. Still, it’s a curiosity worth checking out just to get a feel of what UK pop sounded like in the late 80s.

The Woodentops, Wooden Foot Cops On the Highway. A band that could conceivably be compared to Belle & Sebastian nowadays, this band played a mix of quirky folk and rock that began with the quiet but stellar Giant in 1986 and morphed into a more boisterous sound a few years later. This album sank without trace soon after, but the band has made a comeback with an excellent cd collection of their 80s output (2013’s Before During After) plus an album of new songs a year later (2014’s Granular Tales).

*

More soon, including THAT PARTICULAR SONG. You know which one I’m talking about…!

Thirty Years On: January 1988

Hello and welcome to another edition of Thirty Years On, in which we take a look at that year I have an unhealthy obsession with.  Heh.  This episode features the few albums I have solid release dates for!  Hope you enjoy!

The Godfathers, Birth, School, Work, Death, released 11 January. Much-needed Brit-punk in a season of American hardcore, these guys channeled the Clash and mixed it up with a bit of garage punk psychedelia, creating a fantastic blend of kick-ass rock and a solid album from start to finish. Highly recommended for your collection.

The Fall, “Victoria” single, released 11 January. The Fall’s mid-80s output was surprisingly upbeat and melodic, even despite singer Mark E Smith’s eternal crankiness. A wonderful cover of the classic by the Kinks, and a song that still pops into my head at the mention of that queen or the underground line.

The Pogues, If I Should Fall from Grace with God, released 18 January. The album that also features that perennial Christmas classic, The Pogues’ third album was a huge favorite for the AOR stations in New England. I believe I owned this as a dub from my British exchange student friend for a time before I finally owned it on digital many years later.

Recoil, Hydrology, released 25 January. Essentially a solo experimental project by Depeche Mode’s Alan Wilder, it’s an interesting album worth listening to, especially if you’re a big DM fan. Take all the cold industrial-synth sounds from that band’s mid-to-late 80s albums, take away Martin Gore’s lyrics, and this is what you’re left with.

George Harrison, “When We Was Fab” single, released 25 January. Okay, it’s not college rock, but it was an ex-Beatle! The second single from 1987’s comeback album Cloud Nine, this one’s an obvious and loving nod to his past.  I used to listen to this single repeatedly when it came out.

David Lee Roth, Skyscraper, released 26 January. DLR’s second post-Van Halen album was a surprisingly mature and experimental affair, focusing more on the rock and less on the flash. I particularly loved this wonderful ballad featuring some fantastic guitar work from Steve Vai.

*

Next Up: February 1988!

Thirty Years On

Yeah, I’m pretty sure y’all saw this coming some time ago.  My unhealthy obsession with the music of 1988 deems it necessary that I do the occasional thirty-years-on post this year.  But hey!  This time I’ll focus only on the music and spare you the personal stories you’ve heard enough times already.  This’ll be like my Blogging the Beatles posts from a few years back, taking my favorite music from my favorite year specifically from a listener’s point of view.  I don’t have any set schedule or plan for this series , so it’ll most likely be sporadic, depending on the release dates and so on.

I decided to use the classic Guns n’ Roses “Welcome to the Jungle” (or as my friend Chris once call it back then, “Welcome to my Uncle’s”) as my header video for this introduction for a few reasons.  Even though the track had been released back in July of 1987, it was still getting heavy airplay alongside their other classic single “Sweet Child o’ Mine”.  Originally I was not a GnR fan at all, lumping them in with all the other hair metal bands of the day.  But on the same token, they were essentially the hardest-sounding band out there at the time.  A quick look at the early January pop charts and you’ll notice that pop music was leaning perilously towards the ‘lite’ side.  It was refreshingly inclusive and included multiple genres and performers, sure, but you’ve got to admit that there wasn’t much of a spine to many of those songs.  GnR was the much-needed exception to that rule.

It was time to look a bit deeper into the independents if I was going to satiate my need for exciting music.